Writing Your First Novel: When Do I Get Feedback?

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After last week's post, The Unexpected:  4 Questions to Enhance Conflict in Your Story, I received a message from a fellow writer.  She had written eighty pages of her first novel. Successful with poetry and short stories, she wasn’t sure how to handle something much larger.

It occurred to me that the two questions she posed might be similar to questions others writers ask, so I thought I’d share her questions and my response. This is not verbatim, but the information is the same.

Question 1

I have a fiction writing group, but it will take 2 years to get their feedback on my novel with them. Should I seek beta readers now, sharing the chapters as I write, or wait till I have a whole first draft? I’d like to correct myself now,  but I know it will go through a lot of revisions. What do you suggest?

Question 2

Do you use grammar-checking software or can you recommend any? I can spot issues in others’ writing but would like something that helps me with wording. The spelling/grammar checker on my computer is not good enough.

My Two Cents Worth

Question 1:  I wouldn’t get beta readers until you’ve finished a second or third draft. Instead, bring the first few chapters into the critique group. Do you already participate in this group? If not, attending meetings will help you pick up on things you should be doing with your writing. If you already attend, keep going.

It might take several meetings to cover your first few chapters, but you’re looking for guidance at this point. If they have any writers with novel-writing experience, they can give you feedback on whether you’re setting it up properly. If they aren’t novel writers, you may want to find another group or form one with people you trust.

Be intentional on how you respond to the feedback you receive. Over time, you’ll get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. Not everyone’s feedback is going to be right for you.

Also, keep writing forward, don’t keep rewriting your first pages. You can fix the existing problems identified by your critique group later. The only time I’d ignore that point is if the changes revealed are crucial to the rest of the story.

Question 2:  As for grammar and spelling, if your group doesn’t have members with good grammar and phrasing skills, you’ll eventually want a beta reader or editor to help. I wouldn’t worry about that until you’re closer to a final revision. I do offer editing services, just so you know. I prefer to do the developmental type as opposed to proofreading, but I’ll flag errors when I see them. The biggest mistake people make is paying someone to proofread their work before all the other content and development issues are dealt with.

ADDED:  I have used Autocrit software recently to identify some issues with my writing. It's not perfect, and I'm not sure if I'll keep it, but I have found some issues, especially with repetition.


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